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Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


9 February 1999




Following is the statement of Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the opening of the 1999 session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, delivered on his behalf by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, in New York
on 9 February:

Mr. Chairman,

Allow me first to congratulate you on your unanimous re-election to the leadership of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. The renewal of your mandate reflects the Committee's appreciation of your dedication, and that of your country, Senegal, to the quest for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. My congratulations go also to the other members of the Bureau.


The fifty-third session of the General Assembly has remained actively involved in matters relating to the question of Palestine, reflecting the abiding commitment of the United Nations to the cause of peace, security and stability in the Middle East. The Assembly resumed its tenth emergency special session, demonstrating the international community's mounting alarm at the worsening of the situation on the ground and the lack of progress in the peace process. The General Assembly also adopted a resolution entitled "Bethlehem 2000", in support of efforts to mark the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. I know you share my hope that this event will be a powerful symbol of peace and reconciliation, within and beyond the region.

The year just past has seen its share of frustration and despair. But it is also true that the Palestinian people took significant steps towards the achievement of their goals. Here at the United Nations, the General Assembly conferred upon Palestine, in its capacity as observer, additional rights and privileges of participation. In Gaza, the opening of the international airport was a landmark heralding new trade and cultural relations.

As for the negotiating process, the signing of the Wye River Memorandum following a protracted stalemate offered hope that the momentum of peace would be recaptured. But, regrettably, in the course of the past several weeks, we have witnessed yet another standstill in the peace process. I appeal to the parties to summon again the will and the wisdom to move ahead without delay, in accordance with the agreements already signed.

It is crucial that the parties remain committed to the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the region based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). We must not lose sight of the gains the peace process has brought thus far. Nor should we forget that success in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations could lead to progress on the other tracks. Indeed, too much is at stake for the process to falter yet again. Real progress must be our goal. Real, tangible progress is the best antidote to violence and the best answer to the forces of disruption, destruction and doubt.

Nearly one year ago, I had the pleasure of visiting several countries in the Middle East, as well as the territory under the Palestinian Authority. The leaders and others with whom I met were unanimous in thinking that animosity and mistrust can be made a thing of the past through a resumption of bilateral negotiations. But there was also considerable exasperation at the enormous difficulties encountered in achieving even the slightest headway, and real anguish at the failure to find a durable political solution.

I also witnessed the hardship and deprivation caused to the Palestinian people by decades of conflict. I came away even more convinced that the improvement of economic and social conditions is a central element of the peace process. Some progress has been made in this regard: in creating employment opportunities, in improving health and education facilities; and in promoting industrial development and Palestinian institution-building. But, much is yet to be accomplished.

Last November, in Washington, D.C., 43 nations participated in the Conference to Support Middle East Peace and Development. The meeting brought an estimated $3 billion in new pledges of assistance. This was a welcome and encouraging contribution. The United Nations, for its part, continues to be fully engaged in helping to build the foundations of peace. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and other United Nations entities are involved, providing vital services to millions of Palestinians.

In closing, excellencies, I need remind none of you that the question of Palestine has been on the agenda of the United Nations since the earliest days of the Organization. Palestinians who have lost their homes and hopes find themselves in the tragic position of passing on to future generations only family histories and their unmet aspirations for peace. I say let this be the generation that knows the end of a terrible, costly conflict. Let this be the generation that finds peace and prosperity. Let the generation of today bequeath to their sons and daughters not the yearning for peace, but peace itself.

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For information media - not an official record